Digital Theatre in the Physical Theatre

I’ve been thinking for a bit about digital theatre, and how for the last two years the productions that theatre creators have been producing have been the most accessible they have ever been. Since the pandemic started and theatre moved online, plays have been available to people who normally couldn’t access them, either because of physical barriers, or even financial ones. They have allowed people who might not go to the theatre because getting there is too much trouble, or because the venue isn’t accessible. Or it has allowed people for whom the cost of a ticket has been prohibitive to be able to see theatre, possibly for the first time.

We’ve been able to enjoy productions from all over Canada and the world, which is something that we’ve never been able to do before, without travelling to attend in person, which is great! For most of our theatrical history, the Toronto theatre scene has been separated from the Edmonton scene, which is separated from the Saint John theatre scene, and so on. We haven’t been able to experience the amazing theatre taking place around the country, let alone the world. So digital productions have been a wonderful addition to our theatrical experiences, expanding our theatrical horizons.

As we move back into in-person theatre, I worry that we will lose this. I know that there are issues where Equity and ACTRA are concerned, and that’s something for them to work out, but in the indie world, it’s something that can be done, and I would argue should be done.

That means asking venues if they have a high-speed, dedicated internet connection that can be used to live stream. It means asking if they have a single-camera setup, or do they have a multi-camera option, and if they do, is there a live switcher and do they provide an operator? And it’s possible that the theatre you are looking at doesn’t have any of this, or maybe they don’t even know what you’re talking about! But these are important questions to be asking. If enough people ask about it, the venues will have to provide it.

If live-streaming isn’t an option, there’s still a way to broadcast your show using a simulated live option, where you record a performance, and then provide that recording as a scheduled live stream. Let’s say for example that you recorded your opening night performance. You could then use a service like or Streamyard, upload your video and schedule it to broadcast to youtube (for example). In this way, you could have a live re-broadcast of your selected performance streamed one or more times for an audience that can’t make to the venue. And using this method means that you can also have closed captioning available as well!

We have gained so much from sharing our productions, that it would be a shame to lose this connection and this newfound accessibility.’

I’d love to hear about your experiences with digital theatre, and what you think of the possibility of keeping this going as we return to in-person theatre. Tell me all about it in the comments.

Waiting For The Return

I have been thinking a lot lately about theatre. About being in an audience in a theatre, about performing in front of an audience. And I miss it. All of it. 

But as much as I miss it, I don’t want to rush back. We must make sure that re-opening is organized, and that audiences feel safe. And that’s the challenge. Because audiences are often crammed together, and it would not take much to make that audience uncomfortable. We haven’t been sitting in rooms close together for over a year, and so that’s something that we need to relearn. I imagine an audience packed into the theatre for the first time in almost 2 years, and as the lights begin to dim…someone begins to cough.

That used to be nothing to us. A smattering of coughs as the lights dim was just part of a night at the theatre. But now? I think it will be a while before our audiences are so nonchalant about a cough. 

So what does a full return to the theatre look like? Can we just throw open the doors and hope for the best? That’s probably not a great idea. Because we’ve been distancing for over a year, our audiences likely won’t be ready to sit shoulder to shoulder, for our audience’s comfort, we’ll probably have to ease them back into the theatre.

So how can theatres, operating at a reduced capacity, possibly thrive? Is theatre operated in this way a money-losing venture? Unless we embrace some of the technologies we’ve utilized during the pandemic, then yes.

A wise option for theatres would be installing cameras, investing in good internet, live stream performances, and offering a digital ticket. And we should continue to do this, even after theatres open to full capacity. There are lots of great reasons to offer digital tickets, such as being able to share our amazing theatre with the rest of the world (and with the rest of the country), as well as reducing the ableism inherent in requiring people to come to the theatre (many of which are not accessible spaces). 

There will be plenty of well-intentioned people who will declare that live-streamed theatre will be the death of theatre. But I don’t believe they are correct. We are drawn to gather together to be entertained. Radio, television, home video, and even streaming platforms did not kill the movies.  We are still drawn to go to the movies when we could wait to see it on video or streaming. But some films just have to be seen in the theatre, with other people to really experience.

Others will say that having watched a play in a live stream, no one will want to see it in person. And I am certain that’s not true. After all, we watch movies we love over and over. Not only do we listen to our favourite musicians over and over, but we will pay to see them perform live. To sing the very songs we listen to over and over. That’s why a digital ticket isn’t the death of theatre. Because many of the digital audience will see the show and then want to experience it in person. I saw Hamilton on Disney+, but I would choose to see it in person in a heartbeat. I watched The Grinning Man on Youtube, but I would absolutely see it again in person given the chance.

We have a road ahead of us for re-opening our theatres, and it may be a long one. But we have an opportunity to remake our theatres and our theatre experiences, to grow our potential audiences, and to remove barriers.

So much possibility.

From Solo Play to Audio Project: “Saint” Nick and the Big F*ck Up.

A long while back, I started writing a solo play for Christmas. I’ve been talking about this on and off since April of 2017. The play has gone through a lot of changes, it started out as a play about the Old Gods of Winter being set free and wreaking havoc  on the modern world, but it grew and started to be about too many things. Sometime late last year, I separated the two themes into two separate plays. The one that had the most meat to it, was about a mall Santa who has a very bad day. I started to call this play “Saint” Nick and the Big F*ck Up

As I looked at it, it felt like it was in good shape, and I had was planning on applying with it to the Fundy Fringe (I know, a Christmas play in the summer seems a bit odd, but I felt like it would work), and performing it this year at Christmas. 

The lottery didn’t go my way for Fundy Fringe (such is the way with Fringe). And then COVID happened, and theatres closed, and it soon became clear that they wouldn’t be re-opening any time soon.

But I had this play that was ready to be presented and I wanted to do something with it, so I started to look at options. Live streaming video was quickly looking like the way to go, but there was a lot to consider, a lot of new skills to master, and new equipment to purchase.

On the skills side, there would be learning how to do a live stream, how to light the stage area, how to ensure good sound quality, how to play sound cues in the stream. There’s also figuring out whether a single camera is enough, or if a dual camera setup would be better. And how to switch cameras on the fly.

Then there’s the equipment to think about. Is the webcam on my laptop good enough? Heck, is the laptop powerful enough to stream and not overheat? If I need a second camera, can I use my webcam and stream from there to the computer? Do I need to buy new lights? Do I need some other technology to switch between them? What about sound? Do I need a lav mic? Or can I use one of mic’s I already have? And how would I manage all of these tools if I’m the one doing the performing?

There was a lot. 

Ultimately, after a lot of consideration (and a little breathing into a paper bag), I decided against video streaming as a medium.

But since I have two podcasts (Stageworthy and The Introvert’s Guide To…), audio was a medium I knew I could work with. And I decided that podcasting might be a great way to distribute it.

So I started working on how to adapt this solo play designed for performance into an audio play, so that I could podcast it. So I recorded all the monologue (which seems a strange way to put it, but if it was dialogue, we’d use that phraseology, so I’m standing by it for now), and then found where the best points to break were. And fortunately for me, I was able to make each episode about 10 minutes long (give or take).

I have heard it said that audio is a visual medium (I’m paraphrasing. The original quote is that radio is a visual medium, but it works for podcasts too, so I’ll leave it as “audio”), so I didn’t feel it was enough just to record me reading, but there needed to be ambiance. I needed to be able to set the scene for the listener, so they could properly experience the story. I found Creative Commons music that I could use, and some royalty free sound effects, and built everything from a busy mall on Christmas Eve day, to a snowy Christmas Eve on a quiet street, to a playground full of kids at recess.

It was a lot of work, but I loved it. I started working on this in late July, and finished most of the work by the end of August, and since then, I’ve been tweaking, checking, recording intros and outros, and getting promo images ready to tell the story of Nick to the world.

Nick is a part-time mall Santa, who hates Christmas. It’s Christmas Eve. He shouldn’t even be working today, but he is. And he’s about to meet a most terrible child.

As I write this, I’m putting the last finishing touches on the project, and getting ready to release the trailer at the beginning of November, and the episodes will start releasing on November 17.

I hope you’ll listen. I’ll have links closer to the date.

Here’s the logo to tide you over.

"Saint" Nick and the Big F*ck Up - Title

Annual Navel Gaze 2019

As I say every year, I don’t do New Years resolutions. Instead, I take a look back at the past year and take stock of the things that happened, the things I accomplished, and then look a head to the new year and see what I want to accomplish. Its a great way to take stock of the year that was, and to both put what i want for the new year into the universe, as well as create accountability by putting these goals out for public viewing.

This year’s accomplishments:

  • I was finally able to perform The Commandment at home, at the Toronto Fringe. It was a real joy to be able to share this play with the home audience. We won North (519) Best of Fringe, and performed the play three more times in Orangeville.
  • My theatre podcast Stageworthy crossed the 200 episode mark, and turns four years old in the new year!
  • The podcast for introvert’s (The Introvert’s Guide To…) that I co-host with Jess McAuley continues to grow, and crossed the 15,000 listens mark this month.
  • I got a bunch of writing done.
  • I got a tattoo!
  • I did a little travelling. The highlight was a trip to Quebec City, though I would have enjoyed that more without the fractured rib I got two days before!
  • I started a monthly pub night for creative people. This came from my noticing that I am more creative when I surround myself with creative people. So I launched a very informal monthly night of getting together and talking about whatever comes up. And while the numbers of people have fluctuated, the conversation has always been good!

Last year, I set myself some challenges like “be nicer to myself” and to lean into my introverted “stay home all the time” nature. I had limited success with those. I don’t think I was as good to myself as I could be, I think in the later months of the year, I made some strides. I did not do very well at getting out and not isolating. For example: after the Toronto Fringe, I spent almost two weeks at home not talking to anyone.

So, for the year ahead:

  • My 50th birthday is coming up in April. I want to do something to mark and celebrate it. So my plan is to go to London, England (I’ve never been and always wanted to go).
  • I want to continue to find performance opportunities for The Commandment.
  • Last year, I said that I was going to finish my Christmas play and perform it this year, which you may have noticed I did not do. I’m still working on the play, and it continues to evolve. But I am getting there. And while I’m impatient to be done, I have to remind myself that The Commandment took me a long time to write too.
  • Keep growing Stageworthy and The Introvert’s Guide To…
  • Keep writing, and do it more. While I have written relatively consistently, I haven’t done as much of it as I want. I’m a pretty good procrastinator, so I often find things to do that aren’t writing. I want to get better at not doing that.
  • I have had an idea for a new play for Keystone Theatre, and its high time I pitch that idea to the gang (and also, it would be great to get the band back together).
  • I have also had an idea for a musical for a while, so it’s time I started sketching that out. I don’t write music, but I want to have the idea straight when I find a composer/collaborator.
  • Be more social. Get out to some events now and then, even though I am more comfortable staying home. And not to talk myself out of going (like I often do).
  • I said this last year, but I’ll say it again: do more things with friends. Yes, being a homebody is nice, but you have to go out sometimes. It’s better to connect with people in person than digital.
  • Take more photographs.
  • Post on this blog more. I realized as I was writing this that the 2018 Navel Gaze is the last time I posted.

How was this year for you? What are you most proud of? What are you looking forward to next year?